Title is Everything – Why leave it to chance?

For reasons that will soon become clear to my 43 faithful followers (do I really have that many!?), I have been seriously considering what appears to be a literary faux pax: naming the same work with two separate titles. Dwelling as I do in the midst of start ups and never ending A/B testing, it is hard to imagine why something so important as a title would be left to chance. Why wouldn’t a publisher test the titling of a book?

As it turns out, coming up with a title isn’t so easy. To boot, it is a common practice for a self-published author to have her works re-titled after signing with a publishing house. Why? Marketing purposes, for one reason. Publishers are corporate entities with many areas of expertise and resources for executing on them. And uncover a good or better title is among those.

A couple methodologies they might employ, however, are accessible to the lil guy, too: focus groups and A/B testing. Grab a group of friends and family to elicit feedback and responses to a title. Or, as I’m proposing here: go to market with two titles.

Reasons why a title is so important: first, we absolutely judge books by their cover. Second, in the digital age search engine results and SEO- especially organic SEO – are pretty valuable. Developing a title, sub-title, and treatment that shows up as a top hit for your intended audience is like dollars in the bank. Third, a title, like the headline of your favorite click-bate article, is the first thing that will draw your audience in.

So why not go to market with multiple options? A quick search uncovers the chagrin of diligent readers and the annoyance of loyal fans who encounter that an author’s work is a repeat publication under a different appellation. These are understandable reactions to be sure. However, in cases (if there are any) where the author / publisher go to extended lengths to inform consumers of an A/B testing / crowdsourcing exercise, what objections might an author meet? That is, if the author makes it clear that developing a title has overwhelmed her with a sense of Sisyphean banality and is beseeching the market for it’s help (i.e. vote with your pocketbook), what harm should become her?

I can imagine some consumers crying foul and fraud. I can then see supporters responding, “The author made it clear that…” “All it would have taken of you was to have…” And variations thereof.

Some further objections to attempting two titles are economic and PR-related. They might include the likes of: printing costs, doubled marketing expenses, marketplace confusion, publicity challenges, etc. But what if those were not issues (in the short term)? What if there was a beta “launch” of the book in question?

Now, publishers do test titles, hold focus groups, etc. But the best focus group, the superior crowdsource, is the market. In this case, it seems the most powerful votes are those made by credit card (or cash), no?

For such an important thing, why leave it to chance? Why not collect data from those who matter most: your customer base and supporters?

What alternative endings to such a test might you imagine…?


*Featured image by Derek Murphy

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